Written in Stone
1. Written in Stone
Khazad-dûm, T.A. 1981
In just one year, Khazad-dûm had fallen.
There was no way to deny it any longer. Thráin watched numbly as his father picked up a masked helmet and inspected it. The metal was battered and blackened from some long-ago battle, but Náin gave it an approving nod. Only a few such battle-masks still existed: forged in the First Age, most were destroyed at the Nirnaeth Arnoediad or swallowed by the sea in Nogrod and Belegost. Thráin swallowed a protest that the ancient mask would be little use against Durin's Bane. That had never been the point. It would protect his father from the flames for a few extra moments, and it would make a brave show. That was all Náin expected of it.
Náin set the mask aside and pulled off his gauntlet. "Here. This is yours," he said, dropping a ring into Thráin's hand. Thráin flinched as he recognized the ring of Durin's Line lying in his palm. He had known from the start that his father's plan could have no happy ending, but holding the ring made it real in a way that it had not been before. No words could have said more clearly that Náin knew he was going to his death. "Let no one be certain that this ever came to you; I suspect that the Balrog hunts me so relentlessly because its master knows I have this ring. The other six he has reclaimed or destroyed. When you reach safety, the ring may draw to you the wealth that you need to rebuild, but it seems to work best when it is not relied upon overmuch. If you must, use it only with the greatest caution. Hard work and good craftsmanship accomplish nearly as much, and with far less peril."
"The people will want to settle nearby in hopes of finding another vein of mithril, but you must not allow it," Náin said, dispassionately reviewing the plans they had already hammered out weeks before. "We don't know how far along the mountain chain that creature has tunneled. Have a look at both of the places we discussed before you decide where to settle. If you find another that seems better, make certain of the Men who live nearby. Men are your wisest choice as trading partners if they are sound-hearted, but never put too much faith in even the best of outsiders. They don't understand loyalty as we do. " Náin gave him a long, intense look before he went on, "Look for Virvir and Nidri at the Anduin. By the time you arrive, they should have gathered together the parties that left since the Great Gallery was taken."
Thráin wanted to protest. He was too young to lose his father, too young to be king and to shoulder those burdens. But even if he felt unready to take up his duty to his people, no dwarf was ever too young to understand his duty to his family. He would not fail his father in that. He nodded, not trusting his voice. Náin caught him in a brief embrace, and then stepped back to settle the mask over his face. "Go now. Even if the pattern holds and the Balrog pursues me, you have many wounded to slow your march."
"Yes, Father," said Thráin, giving a half-bow of acknowledgement. He paused only an instant to fix the image in his mind: his father dressed in relics of an ancient battle, standing in the picked-over shell of his private chamber as the lamps guttered out. Then he forced himself to straighten and smile before he turned to go.
The journey to the east gate was not a hard one in normal times, but these were as far from normal as Thráin could imagine. The longer the journey took, the more likely the orcs were to stumble across them. Even if no troops had been assigned to ambush anyone trying to reach the gate, discipline among the orcs was always haphazard and some were certain to have disregarded the orders or been distracted along the way. At some point, he was certain that his dwarves would have to fight and many of the refugees were in no condition to defend themselves.
The larger part of the remaining warriors had gone with his father to draw the enemy off. He understood the necessity, but it left him only a handful of trained fighters to protect a large party of those who had been too severely wounded to leave earlier, their caretakers, and a handful of others who had refused to see reason until it was forced on them. The group moved with terrifying slowness. Most carried litters with injured kin in addition to all they could manage of their tools and household goods.
Worst of all, there were a number of families with daughters among them. He could not blame them for their stubbornness. Any family blessed with a daughter would of course keep her at home during her marriageable years, so she could be introduced to only the worthiest suitors. A disastrous attachment formed through carelessness could never be undone. Most of the families had given in to Náin weeks ago as he reasoned and cajoled and finally ordered them to flee, but a few still remained. Other races might flee from danger, but Dwarves dug in and held their ground by nature.
The children huddled close to their parents, wide-eyed and silent as they left what had been all the known world to them. Thráin could understand their distress all too well. The party's halting progress gave everyone too much time to take stock of the places and things they were losing. First came the silversmiths' hall, still smelling faintly of silver polish, then the wide gallery where so many generations of dwarf-children had run that its length became the standard distance of a footrace. They passed rank after rank of silent forges and abandoned homes with their doors swinging wide and only darkness within. As they marched towards the east gate, the column passed corridors that led to many of Khazad-dûm's greatest treasures: the Chamber of Mazarbul, the Gallery of the Ancestors, the Prism Room. He had known this day was coming; why had he not taken the time to look on these places while he still could? Now there was no time left to stop and mourn. All he could do was walk past each darkened entrance and think, too late, too late.
By the time they crossed the Bridge, Thráin thought it must be nearing dawn. Unless he had lost track of time, the orcs would only be a threat for a little while longer. There was only one flight of stairs and a passage between them and the First Hall with its many east-facing windows.
He turned to look for any stragglers and saw Draupnir, one of his father's bodyguard, being carried up the stair on a litter borne by the warrior's mother and sister. Stairs were savagely hard on the litter-bearers, but at least these steps were wide enough that they could turn the litter sideways and each hold the poles at a tolerable height as they climbed. Both women were dripping sweat and looked near exhaustion; Draupnir was still pale from blood loss and could do no more than cling weakly to the sides of the litter.
"We are nearly there," Thráin said, "and it will be dawn soon."
Draupnir's sister--what was her name? Asutri?-- nodded her thanks for the information and Draupnir's expression lightened a little at the news. Only one wide passage and the First Hall lay between them and the gate now, and by the time they reached the First Hall, the sun would be up.
Thráin turned to the captain of the warriors and said, "Scout ahead and make certain that the passage is clear. It won't be bright enough in there to drive off orcs until near noon." He waited with the rest of the party at the head of the stairs until the report came back that the passage was clear. The brief rest had given the group new strength. They made much better time down the passage, but even so, it was clearly sunlight coming through the skylights as they reached the end of the passage and entered the First Hall. The early light through the high windows at the eastern end of the hall made him smile in relief.
He was still smiling when a shriek echoed through the hall and orcs swarmed out of the side chambers. Dozens of them howled in glee as they crashed through the outnumbered warriors to fling the wounded from the litters and hack at the exhausted bearers. Thráin spared an instant to bless the recent halt. The party was still in a tight cluster: if the warriors had had to defend a long, straggling train of refugees, they would have had no chance at all. The first orcs crashed into the line of warriors and fell as the refugees set down litters and threw aside packs. Then the orcs broke through the line and Thráin was in the heart of the battle. In the instants where he sought the next threat, he caught glimpses of things he knew he would not be able to forget: orcs among the wounded and the children, Drapnir swinging with a belt knife though he was still too weak to rise, Asutri standing over her brother, wielding his axe with untrained fury.
At last, he could find no more goblins to fight. Some of the warriors had a handful cornered and were making short work of them. The rest of the orcs had broken off the attack and scrambled away into depths. They showed no signs of stopping, and no one pursued them. Thráin wiped his face with his shirtsleeve and growled at his lack of foresight. He should have expected an ambush here. If he had even a fraction of his father's experience, he was sure he would have known not to relax his guard at the first hint of sunlight. But his father was gone now, and he was all the king they had. He would have to find a way to learn faster and at less cost to his people.
His hands tightened on his axe handle as he looked around the group. They had not been defeated, but any victory they had was due to the simple fact that they could survive worse injuries than the orcs could. The proof was everywhere around him. Among the battered survivors, he saw the mangled remains of Draupnir's mother. Draupnir was still alive, but the leg that the healers thought they could save before was clearly lost now. He looked away from the carnage, determined to find some way to bring his people through this disaster. What they could make of themselves after this he did not know, but he would find a way to be a king his people would not be ashamed of.
He made a quick check of the rest of the party. The sun shone brightly through the eastern windows now and revealed twenty dead, the larger part of them women and children, and many who had begun the journey hale were now wounded. He set his jaw against the grief and rage that threatened to spill out and said, "We cannot linger here. Salvage what you can, but we will have to leave most of their goods behind." He looked around the hall until he found the nearest guardroom. "There. Take the dead and what goods we cannot carry and lay them in that guardroom. Heri, do you still have the blasting powder?"
Along with some of the others, Asutri cried out in protest, but then shuddered and nodded. A quick count made it clear that they would have to carry two on some of the litters in order to save all the wounded; they could not take the dead as well. Better this rough tomb than leaving them to the orcs. She watched for a moment more as one of the warriors picked up her mother's body and carried it into the guardroom. Then she knelt down on the blood-slick floor and began to sort through her mother's pack.
Heri showed him a horn filled with blasting powder. "I know that room. This will be enough."
Thráin nodded. "Set the charge, but do not light it until there is nothing left in the hall for the orcs."
He was surprised at how quickly the people had the packs and litters rearranged. Perhaps he should not have been amazed at it: there was nothing but tragedy left for any of them in Khazad-dûm now. The sooner they were away, the better. He crouched to pick up one end of Draupnir's litter.
"Let's go," he said to Asutri. As they passed through the east gate, the roar of the explosion and falling stone followed them, burying the glory of Khazad-dûm along with their dead.
Erebor, T.A. 2003
Thráin knelt to examine the newly-exposed vein of ore and smiled. Gold was one of the wonders of the craft: the metal had a satisfying heft to it, a mellow chime, and a lovely warm glow. It almost seemed to crave being worked. A well-made piece pleased the eye, and even if the work fell far short of the smith's vision, it could still be traded to outsiders for all manner of necessities. Unlike so much else, gold did not change its nature when his people lost their wealth and power. It was as cooperative in the hands of an impoverished refugee as it had been for the lords of Khazad-dûm. Steel was an intellectual challenge, but gold was both craft and pleasure. Only mithril ever surpassed it, but he was not ready to think of mithril again. It had cost all of them too dearly.
The Lonely Mountain might have no mithril, but Náin had been wise to suggest it as a new settlement. After almost twenty years of wandering, Thráin was not surprised that the work went so quickly. His people had been deprived of the chance to build and forge for far longer than was natural for Dwarves and would of course throw themselves headlong into the task of building at their first opportunity. The fierce concentration and energy were all he could have hoped for, but he saw little of the joy in creation that had infused their works in times past. He pushed the thought aside; perhaps that would come later when the shock of losing Moria had faded a little.
He ran his forefinger down the rock wall, so absorbed in deciding which of the miners should be put in charge of placing the shafts and supports that he did not register what Virvir was saying at first.
"I hate to go. The Mountain has so much in its favor, but Asutri won't consider marriage unless we move to the Blue Mountains."
Thráin froze. He had half expected this conversation, but he had hoped that Virvir at least would be immune to the despair that ate at the rest of dwarven society. He had always been one of Thráin's most trusted advisors: a sensible, reliable dwarf even though he was not much older than Thráin himself. Those who had survived that last year in Moria had been tested well beyond their years. But however steadfast Virvir might be, if his new wife was not willing to make a home here, then the family would go. "Surely she must see the advantages that we have here over the Blue Mountains," he said, already fairly certain that she had seen and rejected them.
Virvir nodded glumly. "Anyone can see that the prospects are better here. The Men nearby are friendly and hungry for what we have to trade and there are ranges nearby that are equally rich when the mines here are played out. We have enough good stone to carve out the greatest Dwarf-kingdom of this age, and if it ever comes to battle, the Mountain makes a fine fortress. The Blue Mountains are mined out and there is no other source of metals and gems close enough to serve. But if Asutri is going to bring more dwarf-children into this world, she wants to do it where she can see proof that there was once a time when Mahal cared for us. They are the only ones left with an arkenstone, and she wants to raise our children there."
There was the rub. No matter how perfect the Mountain was, it was incomplete without an arkenstone as its heart. Upon awakening in Mount Gundabad, Durin himself had wrought the first such jewel to honor his creator. Mahal in turn had provided each of the great dwellings of the Dwarves with an arkenstone as a pledge of his love and concern for his children. The stones were of many kinds: Belegost's was a ruby of a pure, blazing red that became the standard against which all others were judged, and Gundabad's had been a diamond of unmatched size and clarity. No Dwarf-home had ever contained more than one, and each one was impossible to mistake for an ordinary gemstone.
Of all the great delvings in the West, only the Blue Mountains remained. First Nogrod and Belegost were lost, then Gundabad, and now Khazad-dûm. There were other settlements of various sizes and degrees of permanence, but no arkenstone had been found since the days of Durin the Deathless. No one ever spoke of it openly, but Thráin had overheard enough to know that even the people of Durin's line were convinced now that Mahal had abandoned them. Why should they not be, when there was so much evidence to support that belief? Bit by bit, everything they had was being taken from them, and nothing had been given to replace it.
"Does Asutri follow the Forsaken then?" asked Thráin. He remembered her from the flight out of Khazad-dûm, now truly the Black Pit that the Elves named it. In spite of her shock and grief, Asutri had been steady and sensible during the long march to safety. She hadn't seemed the sort to fall in with that lot, but neither had hundreds of others until they were driven out of Moria.
Virvir snarled and shook his head. "She doesn't, but her father does. No one can control his heart's choice, but I would have stayed single rather than marry someone who believes that it no longer matters whether we do right or wrong, or that we need not keep our side of the covenant if Mahal breaks it first. She is still a true Dwarf, but all her life she has been surrounded by those who told her that the only way to explain the troubles we have had is that Mahal has abandoned us. She has never really been at peace since Durin's Bane awoke. If it makes her feel less abandoned to live in a place that has an arkenstone, then we'll go where there is one."
Thráin frowned. He wanted to be angry with Asutri for taking Virvir away from the Mountain, but for generations now Mahal had left the Dwarves to deal with the endless stream of defeats and misfortunes without any sign that their maker still cared for his children. If it comforted Asutri to live where there was an arkenstone, he would not argue with that. Others had found far worse ways to console themselves.
"I will be sad to see you go, but I understand why you must." Thráin drew his hand back from the gold-seamed wall. The ore looked no less rich, but it gave him little pleasure now. "When do you leave? Will you be here long enough to help me open this mine?"
The season kept Virvir and Asutri in Erebor longer than they had planned. The Forest Road was awash with spring rains and the passes through the Misty Mountains were still snowed shut. They gathered their belongings and were only waiting for the heaviest rains to end. That time was not far off. Through the spring, the miners had been following a particularly promising vein in the new gold mine deeper and deeper into the roots of the mountain. While he waited, Virvir often accompanied Thráin as he inspected the workings.
As had become their habit, Thráin and Virvir spent the morning pleasantly enough in discussing the purity of the ore and potential trading partners near and far. Then a little after midday, as they discussed how many miners they would need to take best advantage of the ore, Virvir bent to heave aside a large stone that lay across the seam of ore in one of the newly opened side passages. A breeze poured out as the stone shifted, rushing through a small gap in the rock. Curious, Thráin bent and shouted into the darkness beyond. The returning echoes promised at least one large chamber. He peered into the narrow space between the stones. It would be a tricky passage, but he thought the two of them could get through it and into the open place beyond. With the breath of the earth ruffling their beards, the two dwarves looked at each other. Exploring this new passage together would make a fine memory for Virvir to take with him to the Blue Mountains, and for Thráin to keep of their friendship. Thráin smiled, plucked a torch from the nearest bracket and said, "Let's have a look."
The hole was no larger than it had appeared, and Thráin had to do a considerable amount of twisting and wriggling to get his shoulders through the opening, but finally the walls fell away to each side. Virvir passed the torch to him and Thráin lifted it to look around while the other dwarf followed. The chamber was large and the upper reaches of it were hidden in shadow. Thráin peered up at the stone. He could see no signs of instability in the rocks. He would need to order a much closer inspection before they began to design, of course, but he could see none of the cracks that preceded a roof collapse. It would be easy to make this into a hall and gathering place for the new community. Nature had already done the raw labor and they could put nearly all their effort into enhancing it with works of great skill and craftsmanship.
Behind him, Virvir struggled free of the narrow place and rose to see the new chamber. A broad smile spread across his friend's face as he saw the size of it and how little work it would take to make it into a hall as imposing as any in the Blue Mountains. Then the moment of pure joy passed and Thráin could see Virvir's delight fade as he remembered that he would not be there to take part in the crafting of it.
"Look," Virvir said finally, "There is another passage on the other side."
"So there is," said Thráin after a long moment. "Shall we see where it goes, then?"
They had a good look around the chamber first, and it was every bit as perfect for a great hall as Thráin had hoped. Perhaps it was too perfect: the chamber was a gift, but a cruel one for a people who had been cast aside by the Powers. A discarded race had no need of a great hall to celebrate a culture that was only slag and tailings. For a moment, he was awash in memories of those last days in Moria, and his father putting on the ancient mask to fight a battle that he could not win. If the Forsaken were right, then this hall would be his battle mask, and he would make it as grand and glorious as anything could be made in these latter days.
They followed the passage from some distance. As they went further, the ceiling and walls closed in until they could not continue without crawling. Virvir sounded the passage and once again, it gave back echoes of a larger space beyond. "Do we turn back, or go on?" he asked.
Thráin hoped his laugh was not noticeably forced. He struck as heroic a pose as he could manage without being able to straighten up. "Onward! We can make at least one more discovery before we're late to dinner."
He dropped to his hands and knees and crawled through the narrows and into the open space beyond. Virvir followed.
"Well?" Virvir asked. "Do we have a second Great Hall?"
"No," said Thráin, looking around. The room had some size to it, but the stone looked weaker here, and there were huge mounds of rubble from past roof collapses. It might be possible to make some useful space from it, but not without considerable work. At this stage in the building of Erebor, they could spend that time and energy better elsewhere.
Virvir stood up and looked around too. "Oh. Well, not every pebble can be a gem. It might do for storerooms eventually, though." He walked over to the nearest mound of debris and said, "Since we've come this far, we might as well see if there is anything of interest in the stone above us."
Thráin nodded and the two of them scrambled across the loose rock. Within a very short time, Thráin decided that it was past time to go back for dinner. What had fallen from the roof was a great quantity of the same unremarkable stone that made up the chamber. The rock was all of kinds that were not associated with gems or ores, and it was too badly fractured and unattractive to be much use for building.
As he turned to speak to Virvir, the light of his torch flashed on something in the loose rock. That was odd. There was no reason for anything shiny to be found in this sort of stone. Was the Mountain less uninhabited than they had believed when they took up residence there? He reached the source of the reflection and crouched low to search. Among the stones of the rockfall, it was unmistakeably a gem despite its muddy, uncut surface.
"Come look at this!" he called to Virvir as he turned it over and over in his hands. The gem was of excellent size, but what was it doing here?
As Virvir reached his side, the light of the second torch struck a surface where the crystal had chipped. In the burst of radiance, Thráin saw Virvir's torch slip from his fingers. If so much brilliance could be released from an unplanned fracture.... The proof would come in the cutting, but something in him already knew that there were no disappointments in store with this stone.
Virvir dropped to his knees beside Thráin. "What is that? Is it..." he began, clearly afraid to put a name to their discovery and perhaps avert a miracle.
Thráin cradled the stone in his palm, shifting it infinitesimally to watch that single surface throw back every bit of light that it caught. He knew he was beaming like a child, but what did dignity matter in the face of this? Mahal had not abandoned his children. He had repaid their loyalty with a new arkenstone, the only one to be found since the First Age. "It is, Virvir," he whispered, "The Lonely Mountain has an arkenstone."
He stroked the mud away from the stone with one finger. Some might not believe that Mahal had sent this token to them, and some would doubt even when they saw the Arkenstone cut and shining in its full glory, but he knew, and the difference that made to him was beyond measure. He could not stop smiling as he rose to his feet. "Come, Virvir. Our people have been waiting a very long time to see this."
Notes: The canon basis for what you find here is mostly in the Appendices of LotR, and there isn't much of it. Durin VI was slain by the Balrog in T.A. 1980. He was succeeded by his son Náin, who ruled for only a year before he was also killed. Náin's son Thráin became king at age 47 (barely adult by dwarven standards), and later established the colony at the Lonely Mountain.
Most of the rest is conjecture. In The Hobbit, Thorin's willingness to sacrifice so much of the treasure for a single gemstone, no matter how amazing, made me wonder if it had more than simply monetary value.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.